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  • Writer's pictureSara Ricke

Office Party on a Budget

Anyone else a fan of the Party Planning Committee on The Office? I mean --- I am!

Seriously though, IRL this usually falls under three categories.

  • Those that love it and are ALL IN – don’t have to tell them twice to get a party together (this is me!!)

  • Those that dislike it and will do it if they must – but it is going to be pizza in the breakroom every time because while they won’t turn down a chance for free food – they don’t want to worry about the details.

  • Those that Hate it – and they’d rather quit than be required to plan a party….it just ain’t happening!

Knowing where you (or your staff) falls is key. If you are expecting people to do an “extra” function – that is potentially either out of their wheelhouse, out of their available time, or out of their comfort zone – it is good to know if they will approach it with a “heck yes!” or a “heck no!” And, frankly, it will save you time and money!

Second, know what your expectations are. It is fair to you and your staff to know a few things before you ask them to create and execute a plan. (And, prepare yourself to be open to what they are finding and readjusting what you are looking for!

Expectations --- consider these and either map out what you are comfortable with – or if you have no idea, what you’d like reported back to you for final approval.


Overall budget for the event if you have one – and if its helpful what you’d like for each area

  • Venue – are you renting a space that will cost money

  • Food – are you having it catered, or in a restaurant scenario, having a few items to choose from or are they ordering off the menu. (You can get an average of menu prices to help plan for that)

  • Auxiliary Food – are you planning a social hour with appetizers? Desserts?

  • Drinks – are you hosting an open bar, drink tickets per person, only providing non-alcoholic options with cash bar for alcohol?

  • Will the committee be responsible for decorations of the space/tables?

  • Are you doing an activity that will have a cost (i.e., bowling, etc.)

  • Are you doing an activity that will need transportation (Christmas light tour on a party bus)

  • Is there a gift you’re planning to give as a part of the event. Door prizes? Holiday bonus? Spouses gift?

  • Don’t forget to factor in appropriate gratuities.


  • Is there a date or dates that you as the primary decision maker would like.

  • Is the date the first priority – or do you want a specific venue/activity – and will go with whatever date they have available?

  • Are you planning to set the date and go – or will you want a poll of possible dates sent out for people to choose their preference and go with the majority?

Staff planning

  • Are you making this event planning and execution “part of the job”

    • If yes - are you creating time for them to do this in their workday?

    • If not – are you open to hiring someone outside to do this for you?

  • Are you giving the planners autonomy as long as they stay in budget/update you with plans?

Here are my thoughts – both as a party planner – and frustrations that I have felt or witnessed others struggle with. Remember, these are just opinions and one size doesn’t always fit all! Your experience might be different – but I hope thinking through these expectations will help you and your staff!

First – I made the budget the first thing for a reason. It ALL hinges on the budget. And, on a party planning level sometimes things being laid out with dollars attached just helps to solidify what you really do and don’t want to spend! Saying you want to go to a particular restaurant is fine. Realizing that the meals will average $20 per person might fit your budget just fine. But what other costs will you likely occur? Appetizers in social hour? Price per person for NA options like tea/coffee/sodas? Desserts? Tickets for Alcohol? Tax? And a 20% gratuity on all?

It might still be EXACTLY what you are comfortable with. But, if not, then you can start to work through what dollar amount makes you more comfortable and what kind of things you can do for that price point. This is not to deter you from what you want – but it helps to make sure you are on the same page with your planners. Also – it can help you decide what part of the night is most important to you!

People sitting at rows of tables eating in room with high wood ceiling.
Large or small, we can accommodate all size business parties.

We’ve seen groups focus on the food – that is the most important thing to them! We’ve seen groups focus on the entertainment – and work that into their budget as a priority by getting creative with the meal options. And we’ve seen groups who have opted to forgo a formal meal all together and even potluck appetizers and desserts – to focus on the space and activities they can do there.

Second – the date. This can be tricky to manage – or just super straight forward! What I have seen work best is for the primary decision maker to have a couple dates they are willing/able to do. Contact the venue of choice and/or activity to see which of those dates are available. Assuming there are a couple of options that work – send out a notice to see if there is a preference of those – and book it. Period. There will never be a date that works for “everybody” …but trying to juggle all possibilities will just drive your planner crazy. 😉 Just realize, restaurants and venues are booking up – so you can ask if they will hold those dates for a day or so – while you firm up a decision – but it is unlikely they will hold them much longer. This requires a quick turn around to firm up the date/activities.

Third – staff planning – pretty straight forward too, right? If this is part of their job…then they need time in their workday to do the planning, make the contacts, and do all the things. If this is not their job – then you should consider hiring someone else to do it all for you. But, asking staff to do it all outside of their workday is not reasonable – and I have watched it go from doing something fun – to resentment and a huge lack of feeling appreciated in about 10 minutes. (Which coincidentally can be about the same amount of time it takes co-workers to complain at the copy machine about the details of the party that they are benefiting from (if they choose to). Your staff planning the event will also hear the “if I were doing it, I’d…”. Clear appreciation and valuing their time helps to soften that. Heck – clear appreciation helps about everything! 😊

What are you best tried and true tips for planning the office party? Do you think of the same things for a family/friends get together? Let me know your thoughts!



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